Diane Abbott under fire for claiming John Bercow could not have bullied ex-Black Rod because he was in the Army

Posted On: 
5th February 2020

Diane Abbott has been criticised after she suggested that John Bercow cannot be guilty of bullying because one of his alleged victims was in the Army.

Diane Abbott has come under fire for her comments on the John Bercow allegations
Credit: 
PA Images

The Shadow Home Secretary made the extraordinary claim amid an ongoing war of words between the former Commons Speaker and the ex-Black Rod David Leakey.

Mr Leakey, a former military commander, described Mr Bercow as "a Jekyll and Hyde character" who terrified those who worked under him.

Former Black Rod: It would be a 'scandal' if John Bercow gets a peerage

John Bercow launches bitter attack on former Black Rod as he denies bullying claims

John Bercow attacks Government over peerage snub as he denies bullying claims

And on Wednesday, he said it would be a "scandal" if the former Speaker entered the House of Lords after being nominated for a peerage by Jeremy Corbyn.

He told Radio Four's Today programme: "He would fly into a rage, the red mist would descend, and he would be jumping up and down, bawling out and shouting insults.

"He called me an anti-semite once after being rather rude about by background, education and military career, and that's the sort of intolerable behaviour that I called out."

Hitting back at Mr Leakey on Sky News on Tuesday, Mr Bercow - who stepped down as Speaker last November - said the accusations against him were "total and utter rubbish from start to finish" and motivated by a desire to block his peerage.

Ms Abbott leapt to Mr Bercow's defence on Twitter on Wednesday morning, saying: "Allegations come from former parliamentary official David Leakey.

“He had been a Lieutenant General who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia. 

“But claims he was bullied (i.e. intimidated and coerced) by John Bercow. Unlikely.”

The tweet has since been deleted after it provoked a storm of criticism, including from Labour MP and former Army major Dan Jarvis.

He said: "Having a distinguished service record does not preclude you from being a victim of workplace bullying.

“All of us in the Labour/trade union movement have a responsibility to create a climate where people can voice their concerns and not have their experiences dismissed out of hand."

'IF HE SPOTS A BULLY, HE SPOTS A BULLY'

Tory party chairman, James Cleverly, who is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves, replied to Ms Abbott saying: “Are you, therefore, calling David Leakey (a Lieutenant General who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and Bosnia) a liar?”

And Conservative MP Bob Seely, who also served in the Armed Forces, told the Telegraph: “I'm sure David Leakey is a very robust character but if he spots a bully, he spots a bully.

“She seems to be saying that if you are a soldier no one is going to try bully you and it's also irrelevant if you come across one.

“The fact that he was a former soldier and a significant individual, who is worthy of respect, means  we should be taking what he says pretty seriously. 

“Her comments are foolish.”

Ms Abbott was also strongly criticised by Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior members of the civil service as well as the clerks in Parliament.

He tweeted: "Indeed Diane - faced with an abusive boss, we often advise members to deploy military self-defence tactics.

“What a ridiculous comment from an experienced MP, demonstrating blind political partisanship and a complete failure to understand how power is abused in the workplace.”

And Mr Penman told PoliticsHome: “Diane Abbott’s crass intervention in blindly defending John Bercow smacks of prioritising political partisanship over the welfare of dedicated public servants.

“To suggest someone is unlikely to be bullied due to their military background is both reckless and a wilful ignorance of the abuse of power involved with workplace bullying.”

Both Diane Abbott and the Labour Party have been approached for comment.